Volunteer Spotlight

Jim Allen and Tom Burger, the “Trail Twins”

They are known as the Trail Twins, a couple of good buddies who share a love of mountain biking—and of digging trenches and hauling rocks. No, they don’t just like China Camp. They speak of the park as their life blood, their religion. 

“We say ‘That was a pretty good sermon today,’” says Tom Burger, aka Twin 1, following a good Sunday ride. Jim Allen (Twin 2) adds simply, “China Camp is our church.” 

Then they laugh. 

They are a couple of light-hearted grandpas who spend a large chunk of their week in muddy orange T-shirts, shorts or pants, and work boots. They take their volunteer work seriously, but not themselves. They are partners in crime, as they refer to themselves, who have been volunteers on the maintenance crew at China Camp for nearly a decade.

The twins have big fans—and big respect. Friends of China Camp board member Ed Westbrook is founder and CEO of QuarryHouse, an international supplier and installer of custom stone masonry. Ed also serves as the trail boss for China Camp projects, and often works closely with Tom and Jim. 

“I tell my guys at QuarryHouse, ‘The crew at China Camp can kick their asses,’” says Ed. “We could not run the maintenance crew without them. Jim is the best Ditch Witch operator we’ve got. Tom can back up a tow trailer with great skill.” 

Adds board member Joyce Abrams, one of FOCC’s lead volunteers. “Tom and Jim are extraordinarily masterful. They are competent and careful—and funny.”

Local boys grow up to be happy and fit volunteers

Both in their early 70s and natives of the Bay Area, the duo might be cast to star in a documentary about what it looks like to be happy, engaged, and fit retirees. The two are out and about most every day, committed to doing a little something for the community, and thoroughly enjoying the friendships and camaraderie that come with physical labor and being surrounded by nature.

Jim Allen, 73, grew up in San Anselmo and spent 45 years in construction at his family’s business, Allen Heating and Sheet Metal. He had bypass surgery in 2013, retired three years later and was determined to get in better physical shape. A friend introduced him to volunteer work at China Camp. He soon got much stronger by becoming a member of the park’s tight-knit fraternity of fun-loving volunteers and avid mountain bikers. 

Tom Burger, 72, has been an enthusiastic volunteer since helping to move and dump rocks after a mud slide over a decade ago. He was reared in San Francisco and San Mateo, the fourth of eight children. After high school, he worked on tugboats for four years in the Virgin Islands. Once he returned to the Bay Area, he earned a captain’s license and spent the next 29 years on tugboats and piloting large ships into San Francisco Bay.

Tom’s background piloting big boats is a definite plus when backing up a tow trailer on steep, sketchy terrain. Jim’s background in construction makes him uniquely skilled to maneuver our motorized machines, such as a Ditch Witch, and to plan a strategy for a workday.

Tom now takes his grandchildren to China Camp to get muddy and play in the sand. “My only regret is that I didn’t take my own four children here when they were young. I was always active at their schools,” Tom says.  “Maintenance work is a lot easier. And a lot more fun.”

Jim and Tom are proud of how they help out at China Camp. They’re especially glad to have helped to complete the recent ADA work on the Shoreline and Turtle Back trails. Doing whatever it takes to get the job done seems to be a hallmark of the pair, and an inspiration.

“I’ll see them working on their hands and knees,” says Andy Ling, another FOCC volunteer who has been Tom and Jim’s good friend for a dozen or so years. “My back hurts just watching them,” he adds, noting that the duo are magicians, adroit at just about everything. 

Hats off to Jim and Tom, our dedicated Trail Twins, whose impressive talents, sharp wit, and dedication are an inspiration to everyone who has the good fortune to work with them or run into them on our trails.

by Janet Wiscombe/FOCC volunteer

PHOTO: harriot manley